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What is the Best Way to Conduct a People Search?

L. S. Wynn
By L. S. Wynn
Updated May 23, 2024
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The Internet provides a surprising variety of ways to conduct a people search. With a little diligence, it's usually not difficult to find information about friends, ancestors, coworkers, classmates and family members. The first step for a person conducting a search is to determine what type of information he or she is looking for. Someone who is primarily interested in obtaining contact information, will likely find the search to be relatively easy; he or she simply needs to visit an online white page directory.

To use online white pages, a person should enter as much information as he or she has on hand. The first name and last name will probably be needed, along with a state or city. People who do not receive their desired results in the first attempt can try making the query slightly more general, either by omitting the city or first name. In so doing, he or she is expanding the scope of the search, but one side effect is that he or she is likely to receive many more hits that will take longer to sift through. Also, if the subject that the person is searching for has a common name, he or she may receive a significant number of results.

Online white pages usually provide telephone and address information; some may also include an email address if it is available. The databases are rarely purged, so the information may be outdated or there may be multiple entries for a particular person. In some instances, there is enough information to track a person's path from one residence to another. There are many online white pages, and people can find the most suitable one using their favorite search engine.

Those who are searching for information that white pages do not provide can perform their search elsewhere. Surprisingly, ordinary search engines sometimes reveal very interesting information about individuals. While the searcher may not find the address or telephone number that he or she is looking for, the person can often discover the subject's place of work, club affiliations or hobbies and interests. Plenty of names show up on race results pages, conference attendance lists or on the minutes/agendas of community meetings. This information can help the searcher craft further search queries to uncover even more information.

People can also take their people search to the many specialized services that can assist them in their quest. Someone who is conducting the search to learn about his or her ancestors will find that there are a whole host of sites specifically targeting genealogical information. With these genealogy services, a person will usually specify the surname and locality, and search through the records to uncover data.

People Search

There are other services that target special types of relationships, such as databases that specialize in listing information of former students. The searcher simply navigates to his graduation year and finds his school, and he can get contact info about his former classmates. These services are particularly valuable because browsing through lists of former friends remind a person of people he forgot you knew. Classmate lists can also help solve the maiden-name problem; suppose, for example, that the searcher knows an old friend's maiden name, but did not know her name after she got married.

Other specialty search services include those that focus on lawyers, physicians, college alumni, and realtors. If a searcher knew that someone went to a particular university, he or she might try searching through the alumni lists. Alternatively, if he or she knew that an old friend was planning on becoming a doctor, the person can search through a physicians directory to try to track the individual down. Some of these databases are only available to particular groups of people, however, and they may not be available to the general public.

If these sources do not help a person complete his or her people search, there are paid services that provide much more information. Paid services collect information from a wide variety of sources that are not easily available, such as court records, real estate records, and magazine subscription information. By tying all of this information together, they can construct detailed profiles of almost everyone. These services usually charge a flat fee and provide surprisingly detailed reports.

The privacy implications of all of this publicly available information are worth mentioning. Not too long ago, people could live anonymously and their personal information was their own. In the age of the Internet and expansive databases, disparate information can be combined to expose a wealth of data about a particular person. People who don't want their private information to be publicly available have to be extremely diligent and disciplined. In some cases, individuals can ask that their information be removed from certain databases.

The trend of collecting more and more information about people is primarily fueled by companies who use the information to help them target their wares. For a company that is trying to sell legal pads, for example, mailing advertisements to the general public would be prohibitively expensive. If the marketing campaign could be targeted at lawyers only, advertising conversions would likely increase. For this reason, it is unlikely that this trend will subside absent substantive legislative intervention.

PublicPeople is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Discussion Comments
By BioNerd — On Mar 03, 2011


Although malevolent genius hackers are relatively few and far between, I think that just one could do a lot of damage if he or she had access to all this info.

By ShadowGenius — On Feb 28, 2011

Businesses have massive databases that they pay good money to access and understand trends of societies, demographics, families, and social groups. These are all fed by the massive amount of information on the internet and in bank accounts. If we were fully aware of the extent to which we are documented, we may well be alarmed. We shouldn't be, however, because these figures are all for the general market, and nobody is interested in exploiting individuals, but only large groups.

By Catapult — On Jan 14, 2011

There are many people search sites out there today that could be rightfully accused of taking advantage of people or exploiting their information. While many people are aware of sites like Facebook having fairly lax, if not totally nonexistent "privacy" policies; however, there are other sites that find your information this way and find ways to further collect it.

A friend of mine recently emailed many of her friends about an online "phone book" site that somehow had amassed everything from addresses to property house values and credit scores for some of its "members", who in this case were just people who data had been mined and placed on the site. While it might be all but impossible to keep yourself secret and private on the internet, remember that you can at least be judicious in how much information you willingly release, and know you have the right to complain about people using your information when you did not give it to them.

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